Cleveland Afrofuturists Mourning [A] BLKstar describe their music as “genre and gender non-conforming,” and their songs back up that assertion. On Reckoning, they continue the project they began on 2017’s The Possible, and continued with 2018’s The Garner Poems, unpacking the emotional spectrum of the African diaspora in songs that are equally adept at paying homage to Aretha Franklin as they are to J Dilla. Even in the context of their past work, Reckoning has a wide thematic and stylistic breadth. Led by producer RA Washington, the band shift seamlessly between classic and contemporary sounds, and between subject matter that’s both heartbreaking and life-affirming. They lament the loss of Harlem as a center of black art over a swinging funk tune, conjuring the era before the neighborhood gentrified; they set lyrics about sexual dynamics over a smoky groove, the modern pulse of triggered samples, and sparkly electronic sequencing. Classic soul instrumentation backs pleas for a lover to return on one song, and chopped soul samples underscore tales of intergenerational racial violence on another.
Across all of those topics, Reckoning simmers with frustration at the cycle of racism that has persisted in America through all of the eras its music references. It’s in the pounding, cyclical samples of Reckoning’s explosive title track and in similar grinding repetitions on “Feels.” “Decade after decade, change comes no faster,” vocalist James Longs sings on “At The Wall,” a song about trying to escape the maze of systemic inequality. And when vocalist LaToya Kent belts, “Yeah we’re free but not equal / To our country / Still killing me / Still killing me,” on “BLK Musak,” the word “still” seems to carry as much anguish as the word “killing.” On Reckoning, Mourning [A] BLKstar stare down this lack of change, finding resilience in innovation and emotion when real progress still seems beyond reach.